I was born in small two bedroom house on Hamilton Blvd in Warsaw, Va. around one am on Saturday, June 4, 1938. Memories of my childhood are, now at my age, difficult to recall. Warsaw had two clothing stores. My father had managed both Dunaway’s and Millers’ before deciding to open his own dry goods store. It was only about 4,000 sq ft. In a two-story building. The upstairs was used mostly to store inventory. We sold men’s, women’s and children’s clothes. There was a toy section, which is where I worked. A shoe section mainly work shoes but some dress shoes. Many items which were also carried by the druggist.
My father Alvin taught me how to make change for up to a $20.00 bill when I was around five. We seldom saw anything larger during these times right after the second world war. He let me select the toys we would purchase for boys and all others; the ladies would buy.
Many people have told me how generous he was. Some people did not have shoes in the summer and wore clothes made from feed sack material. Come August when school was starting in September, we would get very busy. Anybody that needed new clothes or shoes and did not have the money to pay, my father would let them charge the items they needed. He knew most of the people from managing the other stores but would still give people credit that he knew would never pay for the items they purchased.
My job generally, from the time I was 5, was to work the toy store but I roamed around and helped any one I could. Ladies were usually not very comfortable with me waiting on them for clothes purchases but almost anything else was ok.
One early memory I have is still vivid. I slept in the front bedroom, of the house facing the road. One night I was awakened by noise outside. Someone was stealing the tires off of my fathers car. I went to the other bedroom and woke my parents. My father came and looked out the window. At this time tires were rationed and very scarce. My father told me he knew these people and they had a long drive to work every day. He said “I am lucky, I can walk to work, let them have the tires”.
My father was raised near the village of Emmerton. Almost every Sunday he would drive down to see his mother. As with all of the Northern’s, his father had died before he was 40. At this time some people walked a good distance to church. Often, he would stop, give them a ride and $5.00 to put in the collection plate for him because he was going to miss today. I have been told this many times by people remembering my father.
We had an English Setter named “Boots’. He was a good bird dog and a great pet. I can still remember that on Sunday mornings, my father would read the funnies to me while I rested my head on “Boots”
In the Fall when bird season was in, my father would take “Boots” and I down to his home place. (For you city folk, this is where he was born.) He taught me how to handle a gun safely and how to lead the quail. “Boots” was good at retrieving the birds we killed. My grandmother mother was glad to get the birds to eat as times were tough.
One of the boundary lines of the home place was along Totuskey Creek. There were trees most of the way but scrub brush about fifty feet from the creek. Many ticks, mosquitoes, chiggers and biting flies. My father only took me there after the first frost. Later on, I realized it was difficult taking a six year old child through the brush. We fished from the creek bank and he taught me how to bait a hook and fish. My grandmother loved the fish we caught.
The theater was across the street from his store. I loved the western movies they showed every Saturday afternoon. For my fifth birthday he gave me a complete cowboy outfit. Cowboy hat, shirt, pants, guns, holster and nice fuzzy chaps. I was a special kid. This was before the laws were passed regarding fire retardant clothes.
These days before county dumps, everyone burnt their own rubbish. One day I had my cowboy outfit on, playing around the area where we burnt rubbish. A spark from a hot coal evidently hit my fuzzy chaps and they immediately went up it flames. As I can recall Barbara English came from someplace, threw me to the ground and put out the flames and pulled off my cherished cowboy clothes.
Both of my legs suffered third degree burns and my right arm also had blisters. The doctor came and decided I could be treated at home but would have to stay in bed until my legs healed. Barbara, mother and others would carefully rub butter on my legs two or three times a day. After around three months I was able to get out of bed but only allowed to walk short distances. It was over six months before I was allowed to go outside. My scars lasted for many years. My father said he returned the other fuzzy chaps in stock. He didn’t want to chance someone else getting hurt.
When I started the first grade at six years of age, I was a little ahead of most of my class in math. After all I could make change for a twenty. There were no computers to do this for you. You had to learn to count up. Reading from a book was difficult but I knew the spelling of most of the items we sold in the store. Mrs Hodges was my teacher.
My father used to go on buying trips to Baltimore, Maryland once every month. He had a bad drinking problem, but he still functioned just fine with his work.
August 1945 he left for one of the buying trips and never returned. My heart was broken. He had a heart attack and died.
My entire life, at 7 years old, was suddenly chaotic and everything felt like it was turned upside down.
We had to move out of our little house. We moved to the upstairs of the store because mother was unable to pay rent on both the house and store. My room was next to the Estes trucking co. freight depot and it was across the street from the movie theater. I could see everyone entering and leaving the theatre. The trucks were not a problem as they worked during the day. After hours I was allowed to throw my baseball to bounce off of the Estes building wall and catch it. I was not able to throw the ball against the store building because the asbestos siding was brittle.
In the second grade my teacher was Mrs Seward. She showed little empathy for me having lost my father and I felt she picked on me. I tended to talk a lot in class. She would come around and hit me over the knuckles with the sharp edge of a ruler and tell me to pay attention to her. I would go home and show my hand to my mother who would inquire as to how it happened. When I told her that Mrs Seward had hit me, My mother would say “I am sure she had a good reason”. After several times of these bruises and cuts my mother would just look at me and say “when will you learn”?
I was not as valuable in the store anymore, as my mother Dorothy had her hands full trying to keep the store open. My father owed about ten thousand dollars to his creditors when he died. Almost fourteen thousand dollars was owed to him, mainly by people he had given credit to, that didn’t deserve it. This was a lot of money in these post war years.
This should perhaps have been manageable, but the main problem was, less than half of this was ever collected. He had been too easy to get credit from.
My father’s brother, Uncle Berry, worked for a bread company out of Richmond that served the local community. All of the bread was brought here in a tractor trailer and the local drivers had to distribute it. He asked me to work with him on Saturdays. I had to meet him at 3 o’clock in the morning. One of the things that I remember about my job on the bread truck was that every day for lunch, we would eat a nice, fresh cinnamon bun and a hunk of cheese with a Nehi drink (grape was my favorite flavor). I suppose he asked me to join him on Saturdays because I was an active little fella and my mother didn’t want to have to worry with me in the store.
Shortly after my fathers death I became interested in magic. I thought it would lead me to a way of contacting him, which I was desperate to do. Every cent I earned went to purchase another book on magic or a magic trick that I could show others,
Every day after school when I finished my chores, mainly taking empty boxes outside, cutting grass, taking wood upstairs for the stove. I would practice magic.
This was a great time for baseball in our area. There were several semi-pro teams within a hundred miles of Warsaw. Semi-pro meant some of the players were paid. I remember Dewey Wilkins and Jim Trexler in particular. They both pitched for Warsaw and both had many tricks to roughen up the ball to make it dance more when pitched it. They sewed sandpaper in their uniforms, glued bottle caps in their ball gloves and used a substance like tar which was hidden behind an ear. I saw these things because I was often the bat boy for the Warsaw team. There developed a great rivalry between Warsaw and Tappahannock. Both teams were hiring all the ex major league players they could find. There were as many as five thousand paid admission for every game. So sometimes the entire amount of the gate was used to pay players. This was a very exciting time for baseball fans. The fans got to see a lot of once famous ball players.
When I was not bat boy I sold drinks at the game. Most games I made about ten dollars. The team paid us kids fifty cents for every foul ball returned.
During this trying time for mother and me, on Sunday after church, we would drive down to Aunt Annie’s for lunch. Cousin Connie spent a lot of time with me. They had a big draft horse they used to work their large garden. One day Connie put me on the big horse and as soon as he started moving I fell off. This happened three times. I was not hurt, but never got back on a horses back for many years.
For my third grade teacher I had Miss Crabbe. The windows in this class faced the road and the Greyhound bus terminal was directly across the road. There was a road on an angle behind the bus terminal where Mrs Packett lived. She was a very wise lady who was the mother of Barbara English. Barbara is the girl who probably saved my life by throwing me to the ground and putting out the cowboy chaps fire,
Mrs Packett was a member of the school board and took a great interest in the operation of our schools. Every time Miss Crabbe would see Mrs Packett walking toward the school she would quickly go to Mr Hodges office and let him know she was coming.
Mr. W.Morgan was the editor of the Northern Neck News. Our local weekly paper. He was deaf. He stopped by the store every morning to get a hug from the clerks that worked in our store. He was always dressed up with a suit and tie, with a flower in his lapel. The ladies that worked in the store made fun of him behind his back because they didn’t think that he could hear them. I noticed the look on his face when they would talk about him and I suspected that he could hear.
One day, I decided to follow him to the post office next door and, without him seeing me, I purposefully dropped a 50 cent piece onto the wooden floor and he jumped! He thought that he had dropped it. After that, I knew that he could hear. I tried to tell the ladies that they might want to stop talking about him behind his back, but they didn’t believe me.
As do most children, I looked forward to it snowing enough to close school so we could go sleigh riding. We had one very nice hill for sleigh riding. The older guys would first pack the snow before they let anyone ride. When they finished the hill was almost like ice. You could go very fast down the hill. Walk back up where the snow was, for traction. I got very cold quickly and would have to go somewhere to get warm.
The forth grade teacher was I believe Mr De Lavay. He did not speak English very well. Most of us could not understand him very well. He failed almost half the class. Mr Hodges gave the ones he failed a standard test which we passed and were on to the fifth grade.
When I was ten my mother married a local man who ran a service station. I was not aware of their courting but out of the blue was told they were going to be married. He would move in with us.
I was told that from now on I would be working in his service station everyday after school and Saturday all day. I could be off on Sunday to attend church. He would pay me twenty five cents an hour.
He was not mean to me but not fatherly either. I worked in his station everyday from three til six when we went home for dinner. After dinner I did my home work and practiced magic.
He and mother had a boy. Unfortunately he had Cerebral Palsy and was never able to walk or talk. With mothers good care he lived for twenty one years.
Because mother was tied down with him, my stepfather sold the store to a Mr Gornto who had some other stores. He had a two year long going out of business sale. Then kept the store open a few more years. We continued to live over the store.
The service station did not exactly suit me. This was the time when gas was twenty five cents a gallon. People would buy a dollars worth of gas and have you check the air in their tires, the oil and water in the car and wash their windshield and rear window.
I learned a lot of new things there, besides pumping gas. I learned to change the oil in a car but not trucks. I washed cars and trucks. Was shown how to change brake linings and how to put new brushes in generators. I did this for two years.
Mrs Snyder was our fifth grade teacher. The main thing I recall is that she cried a lot. Some of us were very naughty and she did not know how to deal with us. This was the year I started what became known as the bean strike.
My mother always insisted that I buy my lunch at school. Lunch was twenty five cents. All kids who lived in the town had to walk to school (rain or snow) or their parents would drive them. I was one of the kids walking. Sometimes one of the big kids would take my lunch money. When I did not have the money for lunch, my home room teacher would see that I got lunch. I was afraid to tell her who took my money as they would beat me up. One of the kids walking was Tommy Robbins who became a well known author
Our school lunches we terrible. My mother would not believe me, as I was a picky eater. We would have vegetable soup that was almost void of vegetables. Hot dogs that had been cooking in water so long that they were the diameter of a half dollar and would soak the bun as soon as you took a bite. Our meat loaf was at least half bread with watery gravy. Etc.
I had grown tired of this and it was about the time that John L. Lewis was organizing more coal miners. I was in the fifth grade. At that time you could go to the A & P grocery store and buy a can of beans or Spam and two spices of bread for fifteen or twenty cents. One Monday morning I went up the street to the A & P and bought a can of beans and two slices of bread for my lunch.
Tuesday around five of my classmates had asked me to pick up lunch for them. By Wednesday the high school boys were on board and a high school boy drove me to the A & P store where we picked up a whole case of beans, a dozen cans of spam and six loaves of bread.
Thursday saw even the high school girls joining us and we picked up two cases of beans, one case of spam and ten loaves of bread. Friday the whole school had joined us. We bought more of everything. That day only eight people in grades five through eleven bought the school lunch.
The Principal called me to his office and told me I was suspended from school until further notice. My mother was very mad with me and made me work in the store every day I was home. She had me doing all of the jobs I so disliked.
This was a tough battle but the school lunches became much better. I was allowed back in school after five days.
Never again did anyone take my lunch money.
J.A. Christopher and his family lived over a beer joint, Hinson’s Lunch. Back then, glass bottles were worth money. Some of the bottles were only worth one penny, but most of them were worth 2 cents. H.A. Hinson was the only person in town who sold cigarettes by the each as well as the pack. Cigarettes sold for a penny a piece. J.A. and I would walk the ditches to pick up bottles. Then turn in our bottles in to exchange for cigarettes.
There is a patch of woods between Northern Neck Electric, which is still there and the main road. We would take our cigarettes to the woods and smoke them. J.A. would fan the smoke so that no one would think that the woods were on fire.
Both of J.A.’s parents smoked so he did not have to worry that they would smell the cigarette on his breath. My mother did not smoke so I used a lot of Sen-Sen..We didn’t want to get caught smoking , so J.A. came up with the idea of putting our cigarettes and matches in a sealed jar and hide it under the pine tags so they wouldn’t get wet. We went into those woods after school and smoked cigarettes one or two days a week for at least a couple of years.
When I was around 9 years old, we didn’t have organized sports, so we would round up all of the kids and play baseball at the local ballpark, which was across from the bus station.
One day, a man casually walked over from the bus station to watch us play ball. He began to give us pointers and proceeded tell us the he played for the New York Giants. We were all very excited that we had someone there that was famous.
He told us that if one of us got a new baseball for him, when he returned to New York, he would have all of the players from the Giants sign the ball and send it back to us. I rode my bicycle to our store and got a new baseball, and rode back to the ballpark and gave it to him.
We never got the baseball back as he had promised. For me, this was the beginning of being duped many times.
As kids we were a bit naughty. Large straws were being sold which were perfect for shooting peas. The straws were about fourteen inches long and perfectly held a pea, We would take them to school and when the teacher was at the chalk board we would shoot a pea at her. This only lasted a short time before the principal would come around first thing in the morning to collect all of the pea shooters.
My sixth grade was not memorable
The seventh grade found me with Mrs Seward again. She still had her weapon, the sharp ruler. By now I had grown a little smarter and as I recall she only hit me once. I was very interested in the study of Australia and decided I wanted to visit there one day.
After about two years of working for my step-father and eating navy beans and biscuits at home five nights a week, I was offered a job in my uncle Rudy’s restaurant. The restaurant was only a block further from home and I could have anything I wanted for dinner for half price, except steaks. My pay was still twenty five cents an hour but I could get a nice meal for fifty cents and I was paid for the time I was eating because if a customer came in I would have to stop eating and wait on them.
I started out learning how to work the fountain. Making milk shakes, ice cream sodas, banana splits etc. Then I learned to make sandwiches. Uncle Rudy was very particular about how sandwiches were put together and if I did not do it to suit him, I would have to start over
Some customers would come in just for a cup of coffee everyday. Most were good but there were two who were a real pain. We would use half and half for the coffee cream. Often there would be a small bit that did not dissolve properly right away. There was an insurance salesman and the drug store owner who would demand a new cup of coffee if that happened with their coffee. Coffee was only fifteen cents a cup and I thought both of these men were unreasonable.
My job also included busing the dirty tables for the waitresses. Some would give me a little money for helping them but others saw it as part of my job. I enjoyed this job because I got to see a lot more people and the work was easier then at the service station.
Whenever I had baseball or basketball practice or games I could have off. Usually after the games people would come to our restaurant for snacks and cokes. I of coarse would come to work. I recall one day after a baseball game when four of my friends came in. Sharing a booth , three of them ordered their drinks. John looked at his girl friend and said “don’t you wish you had a nickel so you could get a drink”. I felt sorry for her and bought her a coke.
Usually my hours were from out of school til after the dinner hour. Since I was only twelve he had to not pay me for some hours I worked , but made it up in perks. By working longer hours I had little contact with my step father or mother.
We were the first class at our school to have the eighth grade, This added a year to our formal schooling. I was very blessed because I did not have to study a lot to keep a “C” average. When I got home at night I practiced magic and did my homework.
The eighth grade was our first at changing rooms for each class. We had time during what was called study hall, to run out and smoke a quick cigarette. We usually went behind the agriculture building and had to be careful to fan the smoke so it did not rise above the roof of the building.
We now had a variety of teachers. Miss Claude Garland taught typing. Mrs Lowery, I believe government, Mrs Delano - English
One teacher was Miss Swan. She was overweight and while teaching, she would keep opening her desk drawer, where she kept a chocolate bar, and without looking take out some to eat. One day while she was out of the room somebody put ex lax in with her chocolate. She kept eating the ex lax, while not looking at it. By the end of class she was in the bathroom, sick and did return to school for few days.
I believe I was a sophomore when Miss Swan was teaching algebra. She was teaching in the science room. It was around Halloween and firecrackers were readily available to all. In science we learned that a beam of sunlight shown through a round beaker of water could start a fire.
One boy broke a firecracker in half and placed it in the beam of light from a beaker on the science table. After a few minutes the firecracker caught on fire, flew off the table near my feet. Not thinking I stomped on it. BOOM heard all over school. The principal Mr Hodges came running and as soon as he entered the room, Miss Swan pointed at me and said “he did it” Mr. Hodges looked at me and said “get your books and go home”. I had a hard time explaining to my mother, how this happened. I went back to school and explained how this happened to Mr Hodges and he allowed me to return to school in just a few days.
Life was changing for me now that I had a good job and was slightly independent of my parents. Marshall Waterfield and I would go squirrel hunting before school, two or three days a week, during hunting season. Marshall lived on Islington Rd. We would meet in the woods about halfway from our respective homes. There was an old colored man who lived in a little shack near where we would meet. His name was Austin Eppes. He was a very kind man, He had been injured in the war and did not speak clearly. Marshall could understand him better than I. We always gave him at least one squirrel a week. He liked to select a nice “ bo” squirrel when he had a choice.
You needed to be quiet in the woods. Marshall would walk barefooted from his house, even in the snow. Even the Holly leaves with their sharp points did not bother him. Not me , I didn’t like the cold. I would always take my kill to grandmother Lowery as she and grandaddy liked to eat them.
Marshall had a little Crosley automobile, the only one in our area. It was a very small car but sometimes he would squeeze ten to twelve of us in it to go to the movie in Tappahannock. If we saw it parked around town we would pick it up and put it on the side walk. He could not drive it off so he would find some people to help him lift it back to the road.
My first public participation with my magic came in a school variety show. Many other students also participated, from instrumentals to singers. I had been asked to do about two or three tricks. One trick I thought would be good was asking for a girl from the audience to assist me. I showed her and the audience two silk scarves. Then I asked the girl to put the scarves in her blouse. While she is doing this, I am behind her making out I am doing something with her shoulders. Then I ask her to remove the scarves and hand them to me. I then take one end of each scarf and pull on them. Then out comes a bra. The audience liked the trick. Not the school principal. He never asked me to be in another show.
In the late forties none of the five counties in what was known as the “Northern Neck” of Virginia had a band in their schools. A man named Don Nicodemus had been in the Navy Band in Washington, D.C. when he heard of our plight, he thought he could help. After all we were only two hours from Washington. He first came to Westmoreland Co, the closest to Washington. Then Richmond Co. to offer his services of starting a band in both counties.
The band members would have to be good students as they would have to practice during school hours. This of coarse meant missing a class or two a week. He would test the students to evaluate their music ability. The students who passed this test were then asked what instrument they would like to play. Then he would evaluate the student to see if they were suited for the instrument of their choice. If not he would suggest an instrument suitable for them.
He arranged with an instrument company to rent instruments to the students, under a rent to buy arrangement. I was lucky because did not have ability to play anything but the drums. For this I only needed to purchase drum sticks. I could practice on a table or block of wood.
Mr. Nicodemus would teach us what he could as a group in school but also gave individual lessons to almost everyone. We often gossiped about him always arranging his lesson at meal times so he would be invited to stay for dinner. We did not learn until many years later, when he returned for a visit, that he received no salary the first two years. His only income was from giving lessons.
He was a very dedicated man and at first we did not appreciate him. Later on as the band came together we and others realized what a good job he was doing.
Years later some us, by now much older, got together and sponsored a Don Nicodemus day at Rappahannock High School. We had a bronze plaque , listing some of his accomplishments, made and it was to hang permanently in the band room at the school.
The band gave concerts, marched in parades and enjoyed ourselves.
I was evidently getting better with my magic as at least once a month a group or individual would hire me to put on a show for them. At this time the Howdy Doodie show was very popular. As I recall channel six preceded this show with their own kids show. About once a month I and a few others form this area would go over to Richmond and perform for this show.
My largest pay day from my magic show came in Tappahannock. The DAW Theater over there had live shows every so often. Billy Allison a young ventriloquist and I were asked to put on a show. The ventriloquist was the headliner. We sold out the theater. A great evening.
Halloween was my favorite day of the year. We were very bad and if kids pulled the same tricks today, they would likely wind up in jail. Marking windows with soap was acceptable but we used candle wax. If your car was parked in Warsaw after eight pm, it got marked, not on the paint, but the driver would have to clean the windshield before they could see to drive away. All the other windows were marked up too. All of the store windows were also marked. If a policeman caught any of us, we would have to come after school and clean the windows. We seldom got caught as we could run faster than the old cops. There was only a town sergeant, the county sheriff and deputy to catch us.
There were probably a dozen kids marking the windows but ten pm all but six had gone home. The six “regulars” would each tell their parents that they were going to spend the night with one of the regulars. We stayed up all night. The post office was warm and open, so we generally slept there, if at all.
One of the boys worked on a dairy farm. He would always bring a couple of fresh “cow patties” These patties had to be handled carefully. Picking them was similar flipping a pancake. Once picked up, it was carefully put on wax paper and wrapped tightly so it would not leak. Then it was usually put into a waxed lunch bag. We used these where we thought the people needed a good lesson. We would go on that person’s porch, light the bag on fire, with the patty inside, knock hard on the door and run. When they answered the door and saw the bag burning, they would stomp on it. Making a good mess all around.
We always decided where we would meet the next time we were broken up. Letting the air out of one tire was one of the things we liked to do. Everyone had a spare, but if not, Warsaw was a friendly town, so somebody would help with a tire.
One year while there were several of us, we lifted a one horse buggy to the top of the shed. I don’t know how they got it down.
Often during the day, we would, while people were working, set up their house for halloween night. This usually involved stringing a long wire at an angle and putting a few large washers on the wire. Then at night when the washers were sent over the wire, they kept a strange eerie noise. Also a few tin cans, strung together with wire kept a good noise too.
Of course, we had fire crackers galore. We set them off until early in the morning.
There was an intersection in town where route 3 and 360 met. There was a combination caution and stop light. Coming in on route 3, needed to stop. At the top of the “T”, back a hundred yards and slightly up a hill, was a group of stores. We called this the “nob”. This was where the guys would hang out. Around midnight, when the cops thought we were finished for the night, we would go behind the stores and bring out all of their cardboard boxes. We would put them in pile and set them alight. The fire dept. was never called but the law officers were awakened by citizens alerting them to the fact we were still at it. Cardboard burned fast and clean so in a couple days all evidence of a fire has disappeared.
One year while the fire was burning, the town sergeant thought he might catch us. We spotted his car coming and took off. He chased us through the trees and heavy brush behind the stores. There were no streetlights around because one of the older guys had shot them all out earlier. The town sergeant’s flashlight was now going dim. He was actually standing on my leg, probably thinking it was a fallen tree limb. He walked back to his car empty handed.
All of the stores had wire cages in back of the store, for holding trash until it could be burned. Often people needed boxes. They could go looking through the stores boxes. We all had need of a box, to store something or for kids or pets to play with. Appliance dealers were great because kids could play for weeks in a refrigerator box.
While I was in high school the cafeteria lunches were a lot better but there we times when lunches were terrible. Complaining did not seem to help. When it would get to a certain point where could not take it anymore, we would have food fights. When we couldn’t eat it, we would throw it.
One day I was right in the middle of the fight when the principal came into the cafeteria. He told us to stop this nonsense. There were, I think, eight of us throwing food. He had us go in the kitchen to get brooms, dust pans, mops and towels to clean up the mess. The other students went back to class. The principal stayed awhile, then left us alone to finish cleaning. Soon after he left we began snapping wet towels at each other. Eventually we got the mess cleaned up enough to suit the cafeteria manager and went back to class.
When I went in my next class my teacher looked at me carefully and thought I had measles. A serious thing to catch. She sent me to the principal for conformation. He agreed with her and sent me home. I told my mother what they thought I had. She sent me up the street to see Dr. Sisson. He just looked at my face and agreed, I had measles. Nobody wanted to get very close to someone with measles as it was very contagious. He wrote me a script to take home. While pondering her next move, my mother wet a tissue and wiped a spot on my face. It came clean. She then got a washcloth and wiped my whole face. It came clean, my measles were cured. The spots came from the dirty wet towels we were snapping at each other. The next day I was back in school.
When I was a junior in High School I was introduced to a girl from the Washington, D.C. area. One of my hunting buddies was a tenant farmer and introduced me to her, she was the landowner’s daughter.
We would double date with my friend and his girlfriend and go to Colonial Beach where they had bands playing on most Saturday nights. We both enjoyed dancing and had a lot in common.
Occasionally, her parents would invite me to come for dinner here at their home in the Northern Neck before we went dancing.
When I arrived at her home to pick her up, I was usually greeted by the maid which led me to the den so that I could wait for her. On one particular day, her father came in and struck up a conversation with me as I waited for her. I believe that he wanted to teach me a thing or two about life because he knew that I didn’t have a father figure.
He said to me, “This luxury that you see here has a price other than dollars.”
I must have had a bewildered look on my face because he immediately began to explain.
He told me that it is wise to be nice to people even if we don’t agree with them or like them. He was referring to the upper crust dinner guests that they entertained once in a while. I guess that he had noticed that I wasn’t impressed with their titles and clout. He basically wanted to teach me that even if I didn’t want to, I should always be nice to and cater to everyone, especially those in high positions.
It was shortly after that when his daughter and I parted ways. I told her that her father had a little talk to me and that although I appreciated it. I couldn’t pretend to be someone that I’m not. We were very compatible and we had a great time together but I knew that, especially after the conversation with her father, I wouldn’t ever be able to fit into their lifestyle.
Colonial Beach was located along the Potomac River. Virginia was to the low water line on the Virginia side. The Maryland line was the rest of the way across the river. Maryland had slot machines so some enterprising people built out into the river beyond the Maryland line. The two main ones were the Little Reno and Monte Carlo.
Many Saturday nights, after work I would catch a ride with someone and go to Colonial Beach. Usually the Reno would have a live band for dancing in the lounge. As long as you behaved, the would sell you drinks. If an underage kid like me misbehaved, they would bar you from the place. A great incentive to not get drunk.
The slot machines were the big draw. People came from all over Virginia to party and play the slots. They would bring in almost all of the big name bands. Usually on a weeknight on their way from a gig in a city One fourth of July weekend, one of the brothers, who owned the Reno told us that in twenty four hours they made one hundred thousand dollars in slots alone. I played the slot machines a bit. The management liked to see you play if you wanted to buy drinks.
Around two in the morning, after a night of partying we were leaving the beach. Richard Robertson’s father had a Hudson automobile that would hit a hundred miles an hour. We were passing cars and with our arms out of the windows waving for them to try and catch us. When we came into the little town of Montross, the town cop had set up a road block. We had passed a car with F.B.I. men who had radioed ahead that we were on the way. I don’t believe Richard got a traffic ticket but all four of us got a good lecture from our local officials. That was the last of our ultrafast trips home.
A lot of High school boys drove their trucks to school every day and had their guns hanging on the gun rack of their trucks. There was a shooting range at the Agriculture building and we put targets up with 3-4 bales of straw behind it. It was open for anyone that wanted to practice shooting.
All of us would calibrate our guns before we began practice. You weren’t supposed to carry a loaded gun within 20 feet of a highway and I walked to school so I had to borrow someone else’s gun. Those are some of the best memories that I have of my high school years.
A lot has changed. Back then and up until the mid nineties, here in the Northern Neck, it was no big deal to carry your guns to school, in your truck, windows down and the doors unlocked. No one even thought about using guns for shooting anything other than hunting or practicing. Now, if someone gets caught with a knife in their back pack or pocket (even if it is by accident) they are immediately suspended from school and it goes on their record.
My stepfather had bought a new 1955 ford. I wanted to go to Emmerton to see my grandmother. He allowed me to drive the new car. It really drove nicely. It was a rainy day. I was only going the speed limit but as I rounded the top of a hill, there was a slow moving truck, just going down the other side. When I hit brakes, my car started hydroplaning. My car went off the road, flipped over three times, so they say, and landed right side up, in the top of a young hardwood tree. I only received minor injuries. I don’t recall how they got me out of the car from up in the tree. The car was totalled. The highway department had already been planning a new road, this got them started.
The other bad accident I was in was also a rainy night. Four of us guys had gone over to Richmond to see a movie. The guy driving was going to fast down a long hill. When he hit the brakes his new Chevrolet went hydroplaning. The car went around a few times. Both of us in the back seat were thrown out of the car. I was temporarily knocked out. When I awoke my head was right under the left rear tire. His car was only slightly damaged.
When I became a Senior in high school, I began to take my grades very seriously. I had a B average. I never had thoughts of going to college because we were not finically able.
Mr. Hodges was the Principal at the time as well as the Plane Geometry teacher. There were only 8 of us in his class and it was the last week of school with final exams taking place.
On the next to last day of the school year we were to have the last exam of my high school years. My classmates and I were waiting to take our final exam and becoming impatient because Mr. Hodges was in the cafeteria conducting orientation for new students and their parents. The students would begin school next year and needed to know what to expect.
Most of us liked Plane Geometry and felt comfortable about taking the exam. We were growing concerned however, because our teacher, Mr. Hodges was an hour late. Every time I would go and peek in the cafeteria window, he was still talking. Exam period at that time was two hours long. We were getting nervous because there would not be enough time to finish the exam. My friend John Tayloe and I decided that we would set the school clock up an hour. John stood on my back, reached as high as he could and changed the clock to one hour ahead.
Shortly after Mr. Hodges came into the classroom, the school bell rang for everyone to go home. We took off!
All of the children went running around looking for their buses, but there were none to be found. It was total madness, according to Mr. Hodges.
A boy in the fourth grade had heard the noise in hall, cracked the door and saw John and I in the hall. He told on us.
Mr. Hodges called my house that Thursday night and told me, “you are permanently expelled from school.” Keep in mind, this was just before graduation.
Thank Goodness on Friday evening, Mr. Hodges, in a somewhat forgiving mood, called and said that if John and I wanted to, we could take the exam on Saturday morning. Before he gave the exam he told us how disappointed he was in us. We had made a complete fool of him. Of course, we passed with flying colors.
Graduation was scheduled for the next day at 7 pm on Sunday night. I finally got a phone call from Mr. Hodges about 6 pm Sunday, telling me that I passed the exam and could come to graduation. That was a close one! Some said that he did not want to put up with me another year.
Until my senior year in high school, I had never considered going to college. I must have changed somehow because some of my teachers began talking to me about college almost form the begging of the school year. I knew there was no way my parents could afford to send me to college. The teachers were telling me about scholarships that may be available.
By Christmas I was convinced, maybe college was a good idea. I applied to the University of Richmond and was accepted. Then we applied to Mrs. DuPont for help. She had ties to this area and helped some deserving kids needing financial assistance. She agreed to help me.
This was before the days when everyone was supposed to attend college. I was still not totally convinced that I was doing the right thing, but all road blocks were removed.
Richmond was only sixty miles from Warsaw but the only times I had spent the night away from home were with the boy scouts on a camp out, sleeping in a tent or staying the night with classmates.
Was I in for an awakening. I was assigned to the same, army style barracks as the football team. Here I was, a skinny new kid, in a barrack where all the other inhabitants were large football players.
I don’t recall them physically beating me up but always intimating me. My roommate was a good guy, thank goodness. When somebody wanted something, whether I was there or not, they just came in and took it. Of course, if I was using it, they would leave it until later.
The cafeteria food was not very good, but the football players all received a special diet. When I would complain to my roommate he would laugh and tell me what he had, a lot different menu.
It seemed like everything I needed was about the same distance from the barracks as high school used to be. When it came to choosing subjects, there was little choice, you took what they thought you needed, at the time assigned.
Studying was hard for me. In high school I could listen to the instructor and get good grades. In college I had to take notes. New to me. There was a lot of noise in the barracks. All of the football players had tutors for every subject. The night before a test, the tutors would come and go over things that would probably be on the test. It was advantageous to the school to have them pass their subjects.
One day a friend from a nearby town invited me to a party at his fraternity. He would collect me in his car and take me to the party. I accepted. As it turned out there were a few other guys from our area the belonged the this fraternity. I felt comfortable with them and was invited back.
Two of the fraternity brothers were on the rifle team and encouraged me try out for the team. I tried out and made the team.
I had already tried out for the band as a drummer and made that also. The band was not at all like high school. When it was rainy and cold the tough football players would practice in the gym, the band would practice on the field. I only learned at much later date that I have Raynard’s Syndrome, which affects your body’s extremities. I really felt the cold.
Some of the fraternity brothers had cars. They were not eating in the cafeteria so would go out to eat. My favorite place was the White Tower, where hamburgers were ten cents. Mother usually sent me five dollars a week. I could eat four meals a week at the White Tower and have money left over.
Friends were out of the question in the barracks, so the fraternity provided for my. social needs. I wanted to fit in and was doing this with the help of the frat guys.
Studying was my weakness and I flunked out of school the first semester. I moved into a boarding house on Monument Ave. and sold various items door to door to make a living. The boarding house was a new experience, but good. Sharing a bathroom was not new to me and the food was much better than college.
After about three months a fraternity brother, Mick, who had also flunked out, rang me, he was working for the state dept. of highways as a draftsman. They needed to hire more people, so Mick asked me to join him there. I applied for the job and was hired on the spot. It was convenient to the city busses and the pay was steady. Good move.
We were a few floors up. There were two desk vacant by the windows so Mick and I took them. We overlooked M.C.V. hospital, where a lot of the nurses would go up to the roof of the hospital to sunbathe. Needless to say we enjoyed watching.
The bosses were so busy trying to turn out work that, no one got around to training me.
I finally felt very guilty for taking a pay check for work I was not doing. I gave my two weeks notice. As it would happen the owner of the Tastee Freeze in Tappahannock had decided he was going to stay open all winter. He was going to start serving hamburgers etc. and needed someone with food experience. He hired me to manage the food side. Until they closed forty years later they were still using my recipe for slaw dressing and the sauce used when someone asked for everything on a dog or burger.
After I got him going good, a local beer distributor was backing a man to open a Dairy Queen in Kilmarnock. Unfortunately, a month before they planned to open the man had a heart attack. He needed someone to manage the place. Since this was a similar situation, The Tastee Freeze owner told me I could help these people with the Dairy Queen.
The Dairy Queen was more difficult because none of the employees had been employed in food service before. We had it running smoothly and making money in two months.
I was unaware but Mr. Woodson, a shoe salesman from Lynchburg, VA had been talking to my mother about college. Mr. Woodson worked for a shoe manufacturer in Lynchburg. He had supplied my father and mother with shoes since the store was opened. He told mother that he was on the road five nights a week. His wife would get lonesome while he was away. There was a good college in Lynchburg called Lynchburg College. It was a relatively small school. He thought I would do much better there. He had added on a nice upstairs bedroom to his house that he thought I would find comfortable. I could stay there rent free and would be some company for his wife. The tuition was much less than Richmond and he could arrange help with that. It was decided that I should go to Lynchburg College. I applied for and was accepted, so in late August I headed away, again.
My stepfather arranged for me to purchase Miss Crabbe’s 1943 Plymouth Coupe. Life there was much more like home. People were much more friendly. There were no fraternities. I had a quiet place to study and did regularly. I became friends with Henry Wrench. He and his wife Bonnie and their young child lived in town with his parents. Henry was a music major and talked me into taking a music class the second semester. I passed all of classes the first semester. I was fitting in and enjoying my new friends.
Then, sometime in March I received a letter from my girlfriend Ann. She said she was pregnant and did not know what to do. I was shocked. I thought about my options, knowing that I loved her. Two of my professors thought I should try to stay in school since I was doing well. It seemed the only practical thing to do was to marry her and find a good job.
While working at the service station, rainy days were often more interesting. Our business was slow and some of the local farmers would come around just to have a good catch up. Regulars were a father son team of pulp wood cutters. They usually had some good stories about what they would find in the woods. For instance, small stills, 20 - 30 gallons. People coming to the woods, using an old , to make love and goods reported stolen, hidden in woods. One of the farmers was quiet unless he was asked a question. Then he would speak. One of the farmers was a real character. He always wore bib overalls, covered in patches. He got a discount on oil for the farm equipment, which he purchased from a farm supply store and would use our lift to change the oil in his pickup and car. There were no taxes on farm fuel so he would have that delivered to the farm. Then also use the fuel in his pickup and car. Oil came in strong cardboard boxes. He would ask if he could have an empty box. Then he would cut the box into sizes to fit in his shoe. He would not have his shoes half soled, the cardboard was his shoe sole. We cleaned spark plugs to make them last longer. He would use our machine to clean all of his spark plugs. Everyone thought he was poor because he was always talking about how tough it was to make a living farming.
Back in this day six oz Cokes were five cents and nabs were the same. I would usually buy a coke and nabs sometime during my shift. This farmer would always say “my God boy I wish I could afford those”. I would usually feel sorry for him and buy him the same I had. He would always thank me graciously. This went on for the whole time I was working at the station. It wasn’t until several years later when he passed away. Then I found out I had been duped big time. The poor farmers estate was worth over five million dollars.